On Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Could Harden have ended up in a Warriors uniform instead? And if the price had been second-year guard Klay Thompson, would that have been palatable for the Warriors (and their fans)?
In a way, it’s a moot point; Harden is already in Houston and talking about a long-term contract. In addition, according to grantland.com NBA writer Zach Lowe, even though Oklahoma City and Golden State did discuss a Harden-for-Thompson swap, the Warriors’ lack of expiring contracts to make the finances work in a trade was the ultimate barrier to taking those trade talks to a more substantive level (though this doesn’t really make sense — more on that later).
Click here to listen to the BS Report podcast with Bill Simmons and guest Zach Lowe, the NBA writer for Grantland.
Here is a transcript of the conversation regarding the Warriors and Harden (it starts around the 19-minute mark):
Simmons: The guy I kept looking at was Klay Thompson on Golden State because that’s somebody that I feel like could have really helped Oklahoma City this year. Maybe he’s not as good as Harden but he gives them something a little bit different than what Harden does but maybe not necessarily worse, and I feel like he’s getting better. If you’re Golden State, you get Harden, he’s a franchise guy, your fans know who that is. They seem like a team that is always worried about what the public perception is and Harden plays into that. ‘Oh here we go, here’s a famous guy.’ I really wonder if that trade was really on the table and who said no? I mean, who says no to that trade?
Lowe: They looked at Klay Thompson. I know that. I don’t know how serious it got, but I mean, they’re not stupid, they asked about Klay Thompson and they tried to work a deal at least in a preliminary stage for him. He’s absolutely the perfect guy to get in this kind of trade. He’s only in his second year, so you’ve got him cheap for three more years. He’s one of the best shooters in the world already and Oklahoma City quietly has a spacing problem when Harden is not on the floor, because Westbrook’s not a great 3-point shooter, and Thabo Sefolosha you don’t have to guard, and their big guys, Ibaka’s a good shooter, but their other guys have no range at all, well, Collison now and then … but you get the point. Thompson would have been perfect. But the problem is, the Warriors have no expiring contracts of any size, to make the cap workable in a way that at this moment, or even a year from now, would work financially for the Thunder. They took on all these guys — Richard Jefferson — and they didn’t amnesty Biedrins, and they have all these contracts that are big money through 2014 and so you would have had to either send Curry along, who’s going to be an expensive guy anyway, a year from now and they don’t necessarily want to give him up, or find a third team and then it just gets very complicated. Golden State would have been, I think, a much better contender for Harden had their contracts been a little bit different. But Thompson would have still worked straight up, I think, or they could have found the flotsam to make it work. I don’t know who said no to that, but certainly they thought about it.
Simmons: Thompson would have worked, I think, pretty close to straight up with Harden; they might have had to throw in one more guy. You know it’s interesting, and now we’re going deep-dive NBA nerddom, they made that Stephen Jackson-Richard Jefferson swap last year and took on an extra year of Richard Jefferson’s contract. Stephen Jackson’s expiring this year, had they not made that trade, that would have been your expiring contract. And that was a trade that nobody liked when they did it.
It’s hard to make sense of this discussion between Lowe and Simmons. It seems like a pretty educated report that there were talks between the Thunder and Warriors about Harden, perhaps centered around Thompson. The lack of expiring contracts couldn’t have been a deal-breaker though. Harden makes $5.8 million this season. Thompson makes $2.3 million. The Warriors could have made up the $3.5 million difference by throwing in Jarrett Jack (one year, $5.4 million) while taking back a player from the Thunder with a small contract. Simmons and Lowe both mentioned that the Warriors could have done the trade straight up (or close to it), so why bring up the lack of expiring contracts at all?
Putting that aside, if the Warriors and Thunder did have discussions about Harden and Thompson, would that have been a good trade for the Warriors? I guess it depends on how much you value the potential upside of Thompson.
The best asset about Thomson appears to be his shot — he is one of the best shooters in the NBA. If we’re only judging him by his rookie season performance, however, he doesn’t appear to do much of anything else at an elite level. He’s a mediocre defender (though he was better than anticipated), he doesn’t create very well for teammates and his offense right now is fairly limited to his jump shot (which means he doesn’t score inside very often and doesn’t draw a lot of fouls). Harden, on the other hand, is one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league, with great ball-handling skills, excellent court vision and impressive passing ability. He draws a lot of fouls, and is a dangerous scorer from anywhere on the court. His defense is a liability.
This is all conjectre and educated speculation. We don’t really know if there were trade talks, or how serious they became. However, it’s my opinion that if the Thunder were serious about sending Harden to Golden State for Thompson and another player (like Jarrett Jack), then the Warriors missed out on a golden opportunity to add an All-NBA caliber player. I really like Thompson. He’s a good young player and he projects to improve. But Harden is a special talent and Golden State would have benefited greatly from adding him to their roster.